Thursday 30 June 2016

Bye bye Boris.

Smart move.

Someone is going to have to take responsibility for implementing the decision of the referendum, to invoke article 50 and start the process of leaving the EU. That isn't going to be me. Whoever it is, is going to carry the can for failing to get a sufficiently good deal from the EU.

Here's what we want.

1) Brits should be allowed to live and work in the 27 countries, but foreigners can't come here.

2) The people of 27 countries should be required to conform to EU regulations, but we shoud only be required to conform to the ones we like the look of.

3) We get a free lifetime membership of the club. None of this "pay your dues" nonsense.

Here's what we will get. None of the above.

And whoever negotiates this deal will get as much of the blame as cannot be dumped on Johnny Foreigner.

So, Boris. You broke it, but you don't have to fix it. Smart move.

The weather in Poland.

 Chin up! Stiff upper lip!

The leading Brexiters are already saying that we'll have to agree to free movement in order to join EFTA. There's 40,000 regulations from the EU, and we can't just ditch them - for example, some of them are about food hygene standards. We'd have to rewrite our own. Laziness would tend to mean we'll just adopt the EU ones, plus if we do that, we'll still be able to export goods to Europe.

OK, joining EFTA will probably mean that we have to make a substantial contribution to the EU budget (£350m/week sounds possible) and we'll have to send money to Wales and Cornwall to replace the lost EU subsidies (but we've got £350m/week to use for that).

Losing Scotland seems likely, but they've been wanting to go for a while now, and if it wasn't this, they'd find another reason. And do we really want the top right hand corner of Ireland?

Bankers and suchlike will have a problem, because there won't be a uniform set of regulations (the "passport") that means that you only need to conform to that, so international banks will probably move to Frankfurt. But banks aren't too popular anyway, are they? Who needs 'em! But if we do need bankers, we could always raise their pay; we've got £350m/week to spend.

Other professions (doctors, dentists, architects etc) will face a similar problem. But we're losing doctors at a great rate anyway via Mr Hunt's measures; paying them extra out of that £350m/week will help with that.

I suppose there will be an influx of retired people coming home from Spain etc, when they no longer have access to Spanish health services, but we can always recruit the extra NHS and care staff we'll need out of that £350m/week.

The UK has been in decline for the last 100 years; WW1 was just too big a burden, in blood and money, and then WW2 finished the job, leaving us dry. The British Empire is no more, we need to come to terms with the fact that we're just a small offshore island North-West of Europe. The British Commonwealth is just a bunch of people who speak English, the Special Relationship is completely one-sided; I don't think many Americans have heard of it.

I doubt if the UK growth rate will drop by more than a couple of per cent per year.

With any luck, Boris will be PM, Jeremy will be leader of the opposition and Nigel will go from strength to strength as UKIP gathers support from the other main parties.

I wonder what the weather is like in Poland?

Tuesday 28 June 2016

How to put a quart into a pint pot.

It's easy. You use two pint pots.

I've been buying new, more powerful servers. I have four 2U servers, and a 1U. The servers are, in order of power:

Dell Poweredge R805
Dell Poweredge 2950
Dell Poweredge 2850
Dell Poweredge 2550
Dell Poweredge 1550

So first, the R805, vintage 2008. It came with twin Opterons, 64gb ram and two power supplies. I took out one of the power supplies (it's only useful to have two when you have two independent power sources). It didn't have any hard drives, so I put in a 64gb SD card as the system drive, because it has an SD card slot inside the server. I installed Fedora 23 on it, and some hard drives. There's three 3tb drives I had on the shelf, and two 4tb drives. That gives me 17 tb, enough space for all the customer data, plus room for expansion; the drives are about half full.

The expansion slots are PCI-E, but I'm used to using PCI. But a while ago, I accidentally bought a couple of PCI-E 4-port sata adaptors, so I used one of those, and  it worked fine.

But the problem was, there isn't anywhere in the R805 that you can put five drives. It's the "quart in a pint pot" problem. I solved it by using a 1U case, with its power supply, and put the drives in that. The sata cables come out of the rear of the R805, and into the rear of the 1U case. It works well.

This is the computer that I intend to be customer-facing.

The second was the 2950, vintage 2006. I have to say, I like this computer, I like it a lot. It's very well designed. It came with twin Xeons and 16gb of memory, I upgraded it to 32gb, because I think that this will make it really fast. It also uses PCI-E. Again, I took out the extra power supply, and all the drives except two, which will be the Raid 1 (mirrored) system drive. Then I put in four 2tb drives and two 4tb in a separate 1U box - 16 tb. It has Fedora 24, 64 bit version.

The way I've got it arranged, the sata cables (m-m) come out of the rear of the 2950. The add-on 1U box has m-f sata cables coming out. So all I have to do is connect the sata cables to each other for it to work, and if I want to move the boxes separately, I just unplug those cables. It's not pretty, but it works nicely.

This computer is intended to be a backup to the first one - if anything goes wrong with the R805, I can quickly switch over to the 2950.

Then the 2850, vintage 2005. That's a bit older, and uses PCI cards, so I was able to use my usual sata adaptors. I gave it 8 2tb drives that I had on the shelf giving it 16tb, running off two sata adaptors. It came with twin Xeons and 3gb memory, I upgraded it to 16gb, which is as high as it will go. It's using Fedora 24, 32 bit version, because the processors are 32 bit.

This computer is intended to be the second backup to the R805. I like having two backups, because if you only have one backup computer, and the main machine fails, then you run your backup and cross your fingers that it doesn't fail because when you only have ne backup, then at that point you don't have a backup!

Then the 1550, vintage 2001, the 1U box. That came with 1gb, I upgraded it to 2gb. This uses the old Pentium III, but there's two of them. It's a lot slower compared to the other three, but it's still fast compared to what I've been using. It only has one power supply and I configured its two drives as a Raid 1 mirror, to act as the system drive. Then I added a 1U box to hold two 4tbs, a 2tb, 3 1tbs and two 0.5 tbs giving a total of 14tb and installed Fedora 24, 32 bit version. This is scraping the bottom of the barrel! Still, it's enough to hold all the customer data. My plan is that this box will never be customer-facing.

The final box is the 2550, vintage 2001. If came with two power supplies (I took one out), and installed Fedora 24, 32 bit version. There's no big drives; it's just sitting in reserve. If one of the others goes pear-shaped, I can bring this box into use.

The five servers cost me a tad over £100. And that's why I'm not using boxes made in 2016.

Monday 27 June 2016

Repeal the bent banana regulation!

As soon as we're outside the EU, we can repeal that infamous bent banana regulation. Here it is, from Wikipedia:

The regulation applies to unripened green bananas, and thus to growers and wholesalers rather than retailers.[3] The main provisions of the regulation were that bananas sold as unripened, green bananas should be green and unripened, firm and intact, fit for human consumption, not "affected by rotting", clean, free of pests and damage from pests, free from deformation or abnormal curvature, free from bruising, free of any foreign smell or taste.[1] The minimum size (with tolerances and exceptions) is a length of 14 cm and a thickness (grade) of 2.7 cm. It specifies minimum standards for specific quality classifications of bananas (Extra, Class I, Class II).[1] Only Extra class bananas have to comply fully with the shape specifications. Class II bananas, for instance are permitted to have "defects of shape"; Class I bananas are permitted only "slight defects of shape"

Like all food laws, we do want the food we eat to be fit for human consumption, so we do need some kind of regulation. Here's my suggestion:

The regulation applies to unripened green bananas, and thus to growers and wholesalers rather than retailers.[3] The main provisions of the regulation were that bananas sold as unripened, green bananas should be green and unripened, firm and intact, fit for human consumption, not "affected by rotting", clean, free of pests and damage from pests, free from deformation or extreme curvature, free from bruising, free of any foreign smell or taste.[1] The minimum size (with tolerances and exceptions) is a length of 14 cm and a thickness (grade) of 2.7 cm. It specifies minimum standards for specific quality classifications of bananas (Extra, Class I, Class II).[1] Only Extra class bananas have to comply fully with the shape specifications. Class II bananas, for instance are permitted to have "defects of shape"; Class I bananas are permitted only "slight defects of shape"

Freedom at last!

Sunday 26 June 2016

More Ebay fraud

I recently reported on what seems to be a common Ebay scam - people selling 8gb memory cards as 32, 64 or even 512gb. The cards report themselves as the higher capacity, but when you copy files on to them, they give up after 8gb - or even sooner.

Some of the listings do actually warn you that this might be the case, but who reads the small print? Most listings don't even do that.

People buy the cards, give positive feedback, and only find out the problem when they've used the memory card for a long time, perhaps for their holiday photos and videos. And it fails, and there's not much they can do - is it worth making a fuss over a £3 purchase? Actually yes, it is. Because you'd be saving other people from a similar fate.

And now I've found more fraud. This is on ethernet adaptors and switches.

There's a lot of ethernet adaptors and switches listed as "gigabit", which means that they should run at 1000 megabits/second. But when you read the small print of the listing, it turns out that they only do 10 and 100. I've seen a *lot* of these.

I've bought a USB-ethernet adaptor which claims to be gigabit, even says 10/100/1000, and continues to claim it in the small print. When it arrives, I'll test it, and if it doesn't actually do gigabit, I'll request a refund.

I tried to report some of the worst cases to Ebay; when I last contacted them, they were quite proud of their reporting system. But that isn't going to work. You can only report them one at a time, and there's a *lot* of them. And your report has to choose a reason from a short list, and "item is fraudulently misrepresented" isn't there. And I can't see a way to email Ebay about the generic problem. And I don't think they'd be interested if I did.

Caveat emptor.

I feel another referendum coming on ...

Not on whether we should leave the EU, that's done and dusted. The next referendum will be in a couple of years time, and it will be on whether we should join EFTA or not. That's not counting the referendum about Scotland's independence, in which I won't be asked to vote.

If we join EFTA, we get access to the EU market, which means that companies wanting to set up shop and have access to the EU, can do so here, plus most of us speak pretty good English.

But to join EFTA, we'll have to agree to A) free movement of labour, B) conformance to most EU regulations and C) a contribution to the EU budget. Maybe £350 million per week.

This won't be popular, but it'll probably be the best deal we can get. And I'd guess it would need another referendum to approve, otherwise all the Brexiters will scream "We wanted our country back!"

Saturday 25 June 2016

Well, maybe it's not so bad.

Look, the vote was for Brexit, so now we have to make the best of it. Let's stop the doom and gloom. Here's what we should do.

Join EFTA, the European Free Trade Association. Currently, that consists of Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Lichtenstein. This gives us access to the EU markets, as well as those four countries.

We'll need to agree to the free movement of labour with the EU, but rather than giving up control of our borders, we would retain control of our borders, subject only to that free movement of labour, and to the rules that allow family members from outside the EU to immigrate (those rules aren't EU rules, our sovereign parliament freely decided on that).

We'll also have to agree to adopt pretty much all EU legislation, but whereas in the past, this was compelled on us by Brussels, in the future, this will be legislated by our own sovereign parliament, of our own free will.

We'll no longer have to contribute the £350 million per week to the EU (although Farage now says that number was a "mistake"), but as part of EFTA we will have to contribute to the EEA grants, which is unlikely to be more than that £350 million.

We will *not* have to join the Euro or the European Defence Agency, but we should probably stay part of NATO. We might have to join the Schengen area (the other EFTA countries are all in) but that's optional.

When Scotland votes to leave the UK and join the EU, we'll be freed from the Scotland subsidy. Scotland's share of UK income is 9.4% while they get 9.2% of expenditure. OK, it means we get a net loss by losing Scotland, but if that's what they want, that's what they should have.

And if Northern Ireland decides to break away from the UK and join the EU, all I can say is - if it's what they want, then good luck to them, dealing with any Troubles will be your own problem, and cheerio.

If we want to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, that's a separate issue; leaving the EU doesn't get us out of that. We can leave the ECHR and avoid all its pettifogging regulations about human slavery and torture, but there would probably be some resistance in the UK electorate on that.

So we can, if we negotiate carefully, wind up with all the benefits of EU membership, but without having the expense of sending 73 MEPs to the EU parliament to vote on their silly laws, rules and regulations.

So let's stop moaning and being gloomy; if we manage this right, we can have all the benefits of EU membership, lose Scotland, get our country back and all at a cost that's not much more than what being in the EU used to cost us.

Friday 24 June 2016

So what happens now?

It's done.

The UK voted to leave the EU, and I don't think that parliament will ignore the result.

Cameron has resigned, and good riddance - it was him that got us into this mess. He did it to A) fend off a split in the Tory party, and B) fend off the encroachment of UKIP.

So what happens now?

There won't be a general election. The Conservative party will appoint a new PM from within their ranks. It won't be Boris - it can't be, he's not an MP. So who? George Osborne, our unpopular Chancellor? Or will one MP be commanded to fall on his sword so that there can be a by-election at which Boris will stand? I don't know, but it'll have to be someone, and pretty soon. Because someone will have to negotiate this Brexit.

 ... update ...

I've just been reminded that Boris is the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip.  So probably it will be Boris.

... end of correction ...

Then parliament has to vote to leave the EU, and if they don't, what was the referendum for? So they will. This invokes Article 50. No-one knows how that works, because this has never happened before (unless you could Greenland and Algeria).

It's like a divorce. No, it *is* a divorce, with all the concomitant wrangling over who gets the record player. And it's going to be messy. And there will be many politicians who blame all the bad things that will happen over the next 20 years, on the EU, because Johnny Foreigner.

Here's what we want. We want access to the 500 million-strong market of the EU without having to pay the financial contributions, without having free movement of labour and without having to conform to EU regulations. Here's what we'll be offered. You can have the same access that China and the USA has (which means tariffs and quotas) or you can join the Free Trade Area but only if you pay the financial contributions, have free movement of labour and conform to EU regulations. The free movement and the regulations won't be negotiable; the amount of the contribution is something that can be discussed. I'd guess that the opening bid will be £350 million per week.

So what will our politicians respond? A) they'll call it "punishment for leaving", B) they'll call it "blackmail" and C) they'll say it's all the fault of Johnny Foreigner. So will we agree to those terms? Probably not, because agreeing to them makes a nonsense of Brexit.

Meanwhile, the Scots want independence. The Scots voted unanimously for Remain, and now they'll want to split off from the UK and join the EC. There will be similar mutterings from Northern Ireland, but probably that won't happen. Although it might. We'll probably keep Wales.

The pound just fell 8%, the stock market 4%. This means that people around the world think that the UK economy will suffer from Brexit. They're right. We're a trading nation - we import 50% of our food, and we can't change that easily.

So - at least we "have our country back"? No, we don't. For example, if anyone invades Poland, we're committed to go to war in their defence; leaving the EU doesn't change that. For example, Brexit won't have any effect on immigration from outside the EU, which is about half UK immigration. And we don't even have democracy - the unelected House of Lords can veto most legislation passed by the elected House of Commons.

Will leaving the EU ease the pressure on the NHS? No, because the pressure on the NHS is caused by our not spending as much as we could on it, and the presence of EU people working in the NHS used to ease that pressure - but in future, we won't have free movement of labour.

Will leaving the EU ease the pressure onhousing? No, because the pressure on housing is caused partly by our planning permission system, partly by lack of investment in housing and partly by the large number of UK folks who see a house as their main capital asset, and not as a thing for living in.

Will leaving the EU reduce immigration? Maybe it will cut back on the number of Polish bricklayers and Irish programmers, but it isn't going to have any impact on immigration from non-EU countries.

This isn't going to affect me much; I bill in US dollars and the fall in the pound means I get more pounds for those dollars.

The main impact of this is going to be on my children and grandchildren, and I apologise to them that, despite everything I tried to do, the majority of UK voters have made the wrong decision.

Thursday 23 June 2016

I want my country back

In 1066, William the Bastard stole my country from Harold.

By 2016, we've completely stripped all power from the monarchy. But the non-elected House of Lords is still able to veto legislation passed by the Commons. This is undemocratic.

I don't mind the monarchy (although Charles has a penchant for sticking his ears in where they ought to be kept out). But I do object to an unelected House of Lords controlling my life.

I want my country back. I want an elected House of Lords.

I want democracy

The Brexiters have been banging on about the lack of democracy in the EU, despite the fact that the supreme body of the EU is the European Parliament, a body of 751 MEPs that are directly elected from the 28 countries of the EU. It has full legislative power, and the European Commission is accountable to parliament.

However, in the UK, we have the peculiar institution of the House of Lords, a body of 800 unelected people who have the power to veto legislation passed by our democratically elected House of Commons. And as icing on the cake, 26 of these are "lords Spiritual", meaning bishops of a religion that therefore has an automatic say in the laws that atheists must obey!

I want democracy.

I want my country back.

I want the House of Lords to be elected.

Even faster file transfer

I copied files from one server to another over the gigabit ethernet, and I was getting 324 gigabytes/hour, thats 720 megabits/sec, which is just about the capacity of the link (1000 megabits/sec). Which is nice!

Today, we vote

First of all, I'd like to say that this whole circus has been thrust on us because our politicians wouldn't do the job that we pay them for. The way that a representative democracy works, is we choose 650 people and ask them to debate and make decisions on our behalf.

The problem that this solves, is that most of the issues that need to be decided are complicated, and you'd have to devote more time than you want to, to learn enough to make an informed decision. Brexit is complicated.

The other problem that it solves, is that the whole electorate, makes bad decisions. You can see that in action with the death penalty. The most recent poll on this shows that 48% of the electorate favour the death penalty for some crimes. Just a few years ago, the death penalty was favoured by a majority. So how come we don't have a referendum on that? Because our MPs have more time to think about this, and believe that they can come to a better conclusion.

This referendum was foisted on us because Cameron A) needed to stop the Tory party from splitting on this issue and B) fight off UKIP in the last election.

The latest odds frm the bookies are 4/1 against Brexit. So it looks like the electorate are going to make the right decision. But it could very easily (and, of course, still could, I write this before voting starts) have gone the wrong way.

When I set up a computer to do a job, and it then refuses to do it, I replace that computer.

We need to replace Cameron. But I can't think who with - Boris has blotted his copybook by his activities in the Leave campaign.

Back to the Essex Way

A long day out today, with a couple of disasters.

The first disaster was a puncture. I almost never get punctures, because of the extreme length I go to protect my tires. I say "almost", today was the first.

I carry a comprehensive tool kit. So first, I tried pumping up the tire; that didn't work, I could even hear the air hissing out. So I turned the bike upside down, and got my spanners out.

I'm rubbish at repairing punctures. So I carry a spare inner tube. Normally, I use thick wall inner tubes "thorn resistant", but they are very bulky, so the spare I carry is a normal thin wall tube. Changing the tube was pretty quick, and I carried on with my day. Half way through the day, I got back to the car for lunch. In the car, I carry (among other things) a "thorn resistant" inner tube, so after I'd eaten, I inverted the bike again, and swapped the inner tube, ready for the afternoon's run.

The second disaster happened in the afternoon; I was going over a very bumpy field, and the PDA flew off the holder. That's happened before, and it doesn't usually cause a problem, but this time, I managed to run over the PDA as it lay there, which broke it. Fortunately (actually, no luck is involved) I carry a spare PDA, so I was able to continue.

Along the route, I saw this:

Very tempting!

57 caches found, and a few DNFs.

Sunday 19 June 2016

We want our country back!

A A Gill has written an excellent essay on the "We want our country back" cry.

Faster file transfer, and outings.

With only one rsync running, transferring data from the Dell 2950 to the R805, I was getting 18 gb/hour, which I felt was puny, since this is going between two fast computers, over a 1000 mbit link.

So I tried running several rsyncs in parallel, and wow! I'm getting about 100 gb/hour, which works out at over 200 mbit. Much better!

I don't really understand why this would be, though.

Tomorrow, ladysolly and I take the train to London to celebrate the birthday of daughter.1, who is now more than half as old as I am. And since it's Father's Day, I'm hoping for a surprise or so.

Then on Monday, I've persuaded ladysolly to go for an outing to Alfreton (where I'm picking up those three computers), with a promise of a meal out on the way back.

Saturday 18 June 2016

Three more servers

One of the servers I got the other day was a Dell Poweredge 2950. I like it, I like it a lot. I like it so much that when I saw a job lot of two of them plus a 1950 on sale on Ebay, I put in a bid, and I won the auction at £62, which is a pretty good price for three servers!

The 2950 has two Sata ports on the motherboard, and I can add up to twelve more via the three PCIe slots. And my idea of having the drives in a separate enclosure has worked great, including the use of M-F Sata cables so that I can easily separate the drive box from the server box.

The downside is, the description was very vague - I don't know what I'll actually be getting. Are there any hard drives? How much memory?

If there's no hard drives, I already have four from the 2950 I already have, and I only need one of those in a server as the boot drive. And if there's no memory (or not much), I can buy 32gb for £36 (the 2950 has a top limit of 32gb).

All I have to do now, is go and collect them, then see what's in my lucky dip!

Friday 17 June 2016

More ram

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a computer in possession of some ram must be in want of some more. Thus it was that, in 1983, I purchased eight memory chips for my IBM PC amounting to 64kb of memory, for £80. I opened up the box, carefully pressed in the eight chips being careful not to bend their little legs, worked out the new switch settings for the motherboard to tell it about the extra ram, closed the box, and it worked.

I just upped the ram in my new Dell 2950 from 16 gigabytes to 32 gigabytes, for £18. 16 gb is a quarter of a million times as much as 64kb; the cost was less than a fifth.

I opened up the box, shoved in the ram, closed the box and it all worked.

Kids today have no idea how it used to be.

How not to sell

A long time ago, I was in the market for a bit of kit - an LCD projector. We looked at a few, chose what we thought would be good for our needs, and tried to buy it.

The vendor company insisted that they send a salesman round. OK, a waste of his time and ours, but we said OK.

The saleman came, we talked a bit about what we needed, and then he went into a long explanation about all the things that go wrong with his competitor's equipment. He told us about problems that we hadn't thought of, and how his competitors failed to address these problems.

By telling us about all the problems that LCD projectors could have, which we hadn't known about, he managed to talk himself out of a sale, because I felt it was highly unlikely that his brand alone, out of all the possible brands, would have solved these problems that we hadn't known existed until this plonker told us about them.

That's one of many ways how not to sell, but there's another good one that I get all the time.

I call a company and try to do business with them. They're too busy, so I leave a message to be called back. They don't. So I call them again. Still too busy, although I'm assured that "your call is important to us", and they still don't call back, so A) clearly it isn't important, and B) they are suffering from the problem of "too many customers" so I graciously help them with this problem by not adding to their burden. And go elsewhere.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Very cheap, very fast, very big hard drive?

It suddenly occurred to me that maybe I could make a pseudo hard drive out of a bunch of SD cards. So I went to Ebay.

First, something to put the cards in. You can get an adapter that takes ten SD cards for £15.49

Next, the cards. You can get 512 gb SD cards for £3.99.

So ten cards and the adaptor is £55.39, giving you 5tb of storage. And I'm guessing that it would be faster than a spinning disk. A 5tb hard drive would cost £144 at Aria.

A pair of these would cost £110.78, giving you 10tb for the price of 4tb in hard drives. 8tb drives cost £187.14. Also faster (I think, because physically moving things tend to be slower than electronics), lower power, and (I'm guessing) more reliable. The sales page claims that if you use all ten cards, the read-write speed is 350mb/sec, which is massive. I don't think one would get this in practice.

I've googled for a while, and I can't find anyone who has actually tried this. I've emailed the vendor about the SD cards, because they seem very cheap, and they're pretty new to Ebay. The next lowest price for 512gb cards is £6.27.

I'm tempted. I'm awfully tempted!

... later ...

I think those 512gb cards are fake. I've done a bit of checking around, and it seems that this is a common scam.

Just as well I didn't go for it.

Well, I kind of did. A few days ago, I bought a so-called 512gb card on Ebay. I paid for it, it was dispatched, according to the vendor, but it hasn't arrived yet (it's too soon for that). When it does arrive, I'll give it a thorough test, and if it can't actually store 512gb (I'll copy a log of big files to it) then I'll claim a refund via Ebay.

And I've just had another thought. And I'm now testing the 256gb card I bought recently for £5.59!

... later ...

... which seems to actually be 8gb. The writing on the drive says 256gb, and the drive announces itself as 256gb, but if you try to put more than 8gb on the drive, it announces that it's full.

Which only goes to show, I can also be scammed. The usual rule applies - if something seems too good to be true, then it usually is. The problem with that, is that it isn't always true, I've found many wonderful bargains on Ebay.

The fake memory card problem seems to be rather common.

Now I'll find out if the vendor (they're importing the cards, and they might not realise that they're fake) will refund, and if not, whether Ebay will take action. It's only £5.69, so we won't be starving at Solly Towers, but still.

... later ...

And now I'm doing a write test on the 64gb card that I'm using as the boot drive of my new big 64gb server. If it's going to fail, I'd rather know now, than later. This is a 64gb card that I bought nine months ago for £13.09

... later ...

Phew! That card worked fine, I filled it up to 64gb. But I also have a 64gb USB memory stick, bought a few years ago, which turns out to be 8gb. And that's now got everything tested, except the stuff I buoght in the last few days, which hasn't arrived yet.


I don't know if caffeine is good for you or bad for you. But a few years ago, I suddenly realised that I was addicted to it, and suffered from withdrawal symptoms if I went a while without it. I didn't like that.

Yes, I know it's natural. So is heroin. Natural doesn't mean the same as "good for you". Not that I'm saying caffeine is bad, but I just don't like the idea of being addicted to a psychoactive substance. I've never smoked, and these days if I have a pint of beer in a week that's a lot.

So I gave up caffeine, cold turkey. And discovered that, yes indeedy, I was addicted, because I got headaches, and a craving, and it was only after a week or so that I was free from the habit.

Now I mostly drink decaf, although if I swig the occasional caffeinated, I'm not bothered. I'm not religious about this.

But I'm no longer addicted.

The world is going to the dogs ...

 ... or is it?

When I was a kid, schooling was free, and because I passed 11+ and went to an excellent state grammar school, I got an excellent secondary education up to the age 17.

But now there's no grammar schools, and it's a lot more difficult to get a good secondary education, unless you pay a lot for it.

When I was 17, I went to Cambridge University. Not only was it free - the government paid me £370 per year (which was a lot 50 years ago) for living expenses and books.

But now, you have to pay £9000 per year for tuition, and living expenses and books on top of that, which means many students have to go deeply into debt to fund their education.

We got married in 1973 when I was 25, and ladysolly and I, on our joint income, were able to get a mortgage to buy a house pretty much immediately.

Now it's a lot more difficult to buy your first property.

My health care was free. I have no idea how awful it must be to have to worry about paying for dental care and emergency treatment, but I've spoken to Americans, and it's pretty dire. We have to stay with that, even if parts of the NHS are privatised, the important thing is that health care should be paid for out of taxation. I'm hopeful that this will continue, the NHS is Britain's Sacred Cow.

People blow themselves up to kill others; people massacre others. There's a war going on in the middle east, in Afghanistan, in Africa.

The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise

So things have gotten worse ... BUT!

In 1973, there were no computers, apart from in companies. Now, not only everyone has a computer, everyone carries around with them a computer more powerful than the room-sized collection of cabinets that I used in 1973.

In 1973, there was no internet. Now, if you want to know pretty much anything, you can google it. If you want to talk to anyone anywhere in the world from the middle of a muddy field, you can.

There were televisions in 1973, mostly monochrome, and three or four channels. Now there's a million channels, including channels you can get via satellite (didn't exist in 1973) or the internet (didn't exist in 1973). Most of which is rubbish, of course.

Medical care is *much* better - in 1973 a heart transplant was very unusual and risky. Now, although not routine, it's a lot more common. And there's been other advances in medicine. And in the UK, it's still free (or nearly so, I pay a small residual sum for some things).

Yes, there are wars going on. But I was born three years after WW2, which killed 60 million people, and there hasn't been a war as bad as that since then. No-one has asked me to pick up a rifle and kill-or-be-killed.

People have more spending power. GDP per head in the UK (after allowing for inflation) has trebled.

And the quotation about children? Socrates.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

In or out - what are the odds?

A good guide to the outcome is found in the odds quoted by the bookies. Bookies are not in business to spread propaganda, their objective is to make money.

The current odds at Betfair are:

Remain 8/15
Leave   15/8

8/15 means that you bet £15 to win £8. £15/8 means you bet £8 to win £15. So the people betting with Betfair think the result is more likely to be remain than leave.

Ladbrokes offer 8/15 for remain, 6/4 for leave.
William Hill offer 1/2 for remain, 13/8 for leave
Coral offer 8/15 for remain, 11/8 for leave

So as you'd expect, the odds offered by all these bookies are much of a muchness. The betting public tend to think that the UK will remain.

Hello, it's Lenny!

Last month, I told you about Lenny, who is a series of recorded files that are played in sequence to telemarketers. I get a couple of telemarketers per day, so I thought I might do a similar thing.

First, I downloaded the Lenny sound files. They're mp3, so I converted them to wav, and gave them file names 01.wav to 16.wav. The Lenny scripts are rather good, I think, there's just enough encouragement for the telemarketer for them to continue their spiel, together with some additional information for them about my eldest daughter Rachel and third eldest daughter Larissa. And the ducks are amazeballs!

I tried setting it all up on a Raspberry Pi, but I ran into a bit of a problem. The thing that interfaces the USB to a mic and speaker, has the holes too close together, so I can't plug both into that, and if I tell the Pi to use it so that the microphone works, the pi wants to use it for the speaker. And the holes are too close together. It's a silly problem, and there's probably a simple solution, but it'll need me to get some more hardware, and I was in full flow on this.

I tried a clever trick of using rsh to work the speaker from another computer, but it wouldn't, and I don't understand why.

So I decided to do the whole thing from a standard linux box. The next problem was getting the microphone to work, without a terrible amount of noise - that was mostly a matter of using a suitable cable. I have the microphone set to 50% amplification.

So here's what happens. I get a phone call, notice that it's a telemarketer, put the phone on speaker (so that the microphone can pick up the telemarketer, and so that my speaker plays into the microphone of the telephone) and I start up Lenny. Lenny plays a recording, waits for the telemarketer to speak, waits for silence, then plays the next recording. After it plays the 16 sound files, it loops round and plays them again. It's a simple program:

while [ "$something" != 2 ]; do
for chat in $(ls ??.wav); do
echo item: $chat
#rec /tmp/rec.wav rate 32k silence 1 0.1 3% -1 3.0 3% &
rec /tmp/rec.wav rate 32k silence 1 0.1 3% -1 1.0 3% &

sleep 0.5
until [ "$var1" != "$var2" ]; do
    var1=`du -b "/tmp/rec.wav"`
    sleep 1
    var2=`du -b "/tmp/rec.wav"`
echo "Sound Detected"

until [ "$var1" == "$var2" ]; do
    var1=`du -b "/tmp/rec.wav"`
    sleep 1
    var2=`du -b "/tmp/rec.wav"`
echo "Silence Detected"

kill $p
play $chat

Tuesday 14 June 2016

rsh tip

I call my Rsh tip "double rsh".

Rsh is nice. Rsh is "remote shell", it lets you run programs on a remote computer.

First, you need to install it on the target machine, if it isn't already there. I'll use a machine called duffy.

yum install rsh rsh-server

It's run by the xinetd super-server, so in /etc/xinetd.d you need to create a file called rsh

service shell
socket_type            = stream
wait                   = no
user                   = root
log_on_success        += USERID
log_on_failure        += USERID
server                 = /usr/sbin/in.rshd
disable                = no

Then restart the xinetd server with systemctl restart xinetd.service

Next, you need to tell it which computers are allowed to execute commands remotely. You need to be careful here; you don't want Hacky McHackface running things on your computer. So in /etc/hosts.equiv, you put your list of trusted computers. Make sure that they are trusted!

Now you're ready to test it. Try

rsh duffy uptime

That should give you the uptime info of duffy. If it didn't work, something's wrong. And it might be the firewall. Because rsh works in a mysterious way, its wonders to perform.

rsh contacts the remote server on port 514, but then the server tries to open a connection back to the client on a port somewhere in the range 512-1023. If your firewall blocks incoming connections (which, of course, it should), it isn't going to work, and you'll need to use ssh instead because ssh does everything, outbound and inbound, on port 22. Once upon a time, in a land far away, we didn't need firewalls. But that's not been true for 25 years now. But that's why rsh (and ftp in "active" mode) thinks it can make a connection back inbound to a random port.

ssh username@duffy 'uptime'

That will work, but it's a lot slower than rsh.

I have a firewall protecting my machines in Cheltenham, and another firewall protecting them here. Because I trust my machines at both sites, my firewall is very open between those two sites (and very closed to anyone else, allowing only those services that I want to allow).

I also have three DSL lines, and on each of them there's a router, and that router includes a firewall. There is a way to allow particular services in to the DSL, but I don't see a way to open up a whole range. So I couldn't use rsh over the DSL lines, and I was using ssh instead. But then I had an idea.

I call it "double rsh".

Here's what I did:

rsh xantl rsh duffy uptime.

So the machine behind the DSL does a rsh to xantl, which is on the main 2 mbit line, and xantl does the rsh to duffy. And it works!

Here's what I use it for.

I need to do backups of the machines in Cheltenham, but my puny 2 mbit line isn't enough, that's why I also run three DSLs, which are cheap, slightly unreliable, and about 3-4 times as fast as the 2 mbit line. The backup is done by all three machines, and I have a thing in Cheltenham that lists what needs to be backed up.

Each of the DSL-attached servers checks that list to see what needs to be done, backs up the first on the list after first ticking off that it's being done. So I use the double rsh for checking the list and ticking off, and ssh for the actual backup, because checking the list doesn't eat into the 2 mbit bandwidth, but doing the actual backup does, so that has to be done over the DSL line, and for that I use rsync, another delightful utility.

Monday 13 June 2016

A big box, part 3

Last night, a flurry of ordering stuff on Ebay.

A PCI-e to Sata adaptor that will support two drives, £7.69
A PCI-e to Sata adaptor that will support four drives, £14.98

You have to be careful here. There's a lot of cheap adaptors that claim to have four ports, two internal and two external, but you can only use two of them at a time.

15 Sata male to female cables. £14.97

As I have things now, the Sata cable comes out of the big box and into the box containing drives. That means that if I move them, they have to be moved as a pair. Putting this in place will mean that I can temporarily unplug the drive box from the server.

A couple of male USB to female PS2 adaptors. £0.99 This is because most of my keyboards have PS2 connectors, but computers today can have only USB connectors.

A PCI-e to PCI adapter, £5.55. I only got one, because I want to see how well it works, but it will mean that I can use any of my existing PCI cards in a PCI-e slot.

The 512gb SD card that I ordered on Ebay - I got an email telling me that it's been dispatched, but the listing has now been removed and the seller is no longer on Ebay. So I'm wondering if it will arrive. If it doesn't, I'll do a claim from Ebay, but it's only £4.99, so no big deal if it doesn't turn up. Maybe it was too good to be true. And there's still the 256 gb card on its way.

So, while I wait for these things, more work on the servers. I took the drives out of an existing box and added them to the 64gb server; those are already loaded with data, that A) reduces copying and B) reduces power consumption in the Data Shed by 0.33 amps.

I now have an Adaptec PCI-e card in each of the servers. I'd have put two of them into the 16gb box, but one of the three cards (bought several years ago and boxed until now) is being rejected by the servers. So this means I can attach five drives to the 64gb box, and six to the 16gb (it has an extra Sata connector on the motherboard).

I've also been doing all the configuring that I usually do on a new install, plus I've discovered the delights of rsh, so I've installed that.

And I'm bidding on a couple of gigabit network switches. Now that I know I can upgrade individual computers to gigabit ethernet, I might use it more widely. Currently, I have a five port card, and already I want to use a sixth port!

Tomorrow, Linux Fedora version 24 becomes available. I plan to download it as soon as I can, and use it to upgrade these boxes.

Thoughts and prayers

50 people murdered.

Why? And how can this happen?

The "why" is difficult; who knows what goes on in the mind of a mass murderer. The how is easy. He used a machine gun.

In America, they call them "AR-15 assault type rifles", but what they are, are machine guns.

In a few days, we'll be remembering the battle of the Somme. On July 1, 1916, the British army took 57,470 casualties, of which 19,240 were killed, when they climbed out of their trenches and walked towards the German machine guns.

In America, you can order a machine gun, and get it within three days.

That's how.

Thoughts and prayers aren't enough. Americans need to take action.

Sunday 12 June 2016

A big box, part 2

With the big box up and running, time to start loading it with data. I have about 8 terabytes to put on it.

First I had to move it from my workbench, to one of my racks. The problem here is that A) this thing is very heavy, and B) I need to move it, and the drive box, together. So I used my pump trolley, every home should have one. 

There's five Sata ports, four on the card I added, and one on the motherboard. I'm going to use two ports to attach already-loaded drives, which means I can stop using the server hosting them, and the other three ports for 4tb of data that I've got on another computer, but I plan to copy.

For the drives, I'm using Seagate 3tb drives. I've had a lot of failures with these, but I have three on the shelf unused, and if I don't ever use them, I might as well throw them away. I'll use them for this, and if they fail during the data loading, it's no big deal. Three 3tb drives raided together gives me 9tb for a 4tb file load. That gives me plenty of space for future expansion.

4tb is a lot. If I can copy at the full 100 mbit rate (which can't actually be reached), I should get 12.5 megabytes per second, which works out to about 90 hours. Experience tells me that 6mb/sec is more the size, so 180 hours, about a week. OK, that's doable (I've done it before), but maybe I can do better. The big box has gigabyte ethernet - the source of the data doesn't. But several years ago, I looked into gigabit ethernet. I didn't look very much, but I did wind up with a gigabit switch and a handful of gigabit cards. I tried one of these cards in the source machine, but it didn't like it. Rather than try to persuade it, I tried an Intel card. It liked that, and after a bit of fumbling around, I was able to make it work. So I can copy at gigabit speeds. If I could get the full speed of that, it would reduce my copying time to 9 hours, nice. But copying isn't just chucking bits down the ethernet, it's also reading from the source and writing to the destination.

I timed it on the 100 mbit network, and I was getting about 4 mb/sec.

I timed it on the 1000 mbit network, and I'm getting 4.2 mb/sec (34 mbit/sec), which means that the bottleneck isn't the network, it's the reading from the source disk and writing to the destination. Disk write speed is supposed to be around 120 mb/s, so the extra time must be in opening and closing files, in the rsync protocol, and other stuff I haven't thought of.

Bottom line - loading a big drive using gigabit ethernet isn't faster than using megabit ethernet. Bah.

The other thing I tested was power consumption. It's a big box, and when the top is open, it roars like a dozen lions, that's the blowers cooling the CPUs and memory. So I expected a big power draw. Not so. I put my clamp meter onto it, and it pulls 0.7 amps, which is 170 watts. I should add to that, another 40 watts, which is the power draw of the second box containing the drives, so a total of 210 watts, just under 1 amp.

My other big servers (which are really boxes with 12-14 drives), pull 200 watts. My small boxes (computer plus three drives) are 72 watts.

So the power consumption isn't too bad - that 210 watt draw will be replacing three other computers each pulling some 160 watts. Just for fun, the Raspberry Pi 3 takes 0.6 amp at 5 volts, which is 3 watts. That's why I like to use Pies instead of ordinary computers wherever I can.

 I'll be saving on power, although that's not the main motivation for this box. The main motive is to improve customer service; the fast CPU (8 2.7 ghz cores) and huge memory (64gb) should translate to better throughput.

... later ...

It occurred to me that maybe I can reduce the overheads on file transfer by doing several at once. So I tried that, and I'm getting 6.8 mb/sec. So this file transfer will take about a week. Well, that's not a problem, it's just two computers communing.

Saturday 11 June 2016

A big box

I've been looking at big boxes on Ebay for a while. By big, I mean heavy on memory.

The boxes I use at the moment, can only take 2gb of memory - that's because I'm using mostly motherboards that I bought several years ago, because I decided then that it would be a great idea to pick a motherboard that has all the features I want, then buy a couple of dozen of them. I still have several boxed and unopened!

But back in those days, 300 gb was a big drive. Now 300gb is barely worth mentioning; I'm using 2000, 4000 and 8000 gb drives.

When you're accessing drives so large, you want the computer to do a lot of caching, especially of inodes, because reading the same bits of disk again and again really slows things down, compared with having those bits cached in memory. So, as everyone knows, having a lot of memory makes your computer faster.

I've been looking at 64gb, 128gb and 256 gb servers. These tend to cost £200, £400 and £1500. But I was wandering around Ebay a few days ago, and I noticed an auction for a 64gb server, plus a 16gb server of physical size 2U (that means 3 1/2 inches high), and the current bid for the two of them was £10!

Well, I couldn't ignore that. So I put in a bid, and wound up acquiring the two for £45.

How come there are such bargains on Ebay? Well, it's about supply and demand. The supply comes from bankrupcies and clearances, although this sale was an individual. The problem is demand. No big company is going to entrust its precious data to a server bought second hand from Ebay. For a start, you won't get any support from the vendor (Dell in this case). And the person making the purchase decisions isn't spending his own money, so it's *much* more important that his arse be covered than money be saved. And private individuals don't buy this sort of computer; it's not designed to sit on your desk or under it, its natural habitat is a 19 inch rack in a data center.

Along comes myself. I run a small internet company, and that needs equipment (and yes, I do have a couple of 19 inch racks). So I get Cisco Pix firewalls at a tenth of the price of a new one, and in this case, the two servers I bought would probably have been a few thousand when new.

But - no vendor support, no income tax, no guarantee, no money back (and no VAT either, the guy I bought it from isn't a trader, so doesn't need to register for VAT).

Before I parted with the cash, we started up both of the computers, and they worked, so I piled them into the motor and took them home.

First, the big 64gb box. It's a Dell Poweredge R805, so I went to the Dell web site and downloaded the hardware manuals. It came without a hard drive (and I suspect it's never had one, plus the date was completely wrong, so it might never have been actually used). I need a hard drive, obviously. But the expansion slots were PCIe, and all the stuff I have is PCI. But! I made a mistake several years ago, and bought three PCIe Sata raid cards, which have been sitting on the shelf ever since. So I got one of them out and installed it. I started up the computer, and got "PCIe training error", whatever that means.

Inside the box, there's one Sata connector, a USB, and an SD card slot. Aha, I thought, and dug out a 64gb USB drive that I bought a couple of years ago for no particular reason, other than it was really cheap. I plugged a DVD Rom drive into the Sata slot, powered it from an external power supply (the R805 doesn't seem to have any way of powering drives!) and tried to install Linux Fedora 23. That didn't work, it crashed very soon after I started, so I tried the other way. I put a 64gb SD card into the slot (again, bought for no particular reason a while ago). And I installed Linux - hurrah!

But I was only getting 56 gb, it was reporting two of the memory sticks as faulty. I tried reseating them, no luck. I tried various things, and eventually, by swapping the sticks in B1 and B2 with the sticks from B7 and B8, I got the full 64gb. Nice. I'm running an extensive memory test now; if any of the sticks fail, I'll replace them.

So at this point, I have a computer that works, has 64gb memory, running Linux Fedora 23 on a 64 Gb SD card. Looking good! But I need to attach hard drives.

First, I tried another PCIe Sata card, and that worked, so the problem was with the first card. This means that I now have the capability to attach five drives to the system; four on the PCIe card and one on the motherboard connector. But there's no space inside the box to put the drives (it seems to expect to have two 2 1/2 inch drives, puny) and no power to spin them.

So here's what I'm going to do. I'll let the five Sata cables run out of the rear of the box, and next to it, I'll have a 1U box, with no computer, but with a power supply which will power the drives inside it. And the drives will have Sata cables coming out of the back of that 1U box. So then I connect the five cables from the Dell to the five cables from the drive box, and that gives me anything up to 40 terabytes (five 8tb drives). And all I really need is 16 tb, so there's room for exansion in the future. To make the Sata connection, I'll need cables that have a male connector at one end and female at the other; I just ordered those from Ebay at £1 each.

On June 14, Fedora 24 comes out (free, of course), so I'm planning to do my final install using that. I've also ordered a 512gb memory card (£5) and a couple more 64gb cards (£2.68).

Looking good.


There were two servers - don't forget the 16 gb server, which is a Dell Poweredge 2950. The first thing I did for that was have a look inside at what sort of memory is uses. It has four free memory slots, so I ordered (from Ebay, of course) another 16gb, £18. It came with a plethora of hard drives; two 73gb and four 146 gb. It was running Windows Server, but I don't want that. First, I changed the configuration of the drives, so that instead of running the 146 gbs using Raid 5 (which is clever, and I don't trust it) it's running Raid 0 (which is simple, and I do trust it). But what happens if a drive fails, you might be thinking. Well, that's why I have backups. Some systems need Raid 5, because they can't have even a minute's downtime. But my needs aren't like that, so what I do is I run a pair of servers, one is customer-facing, the other is a hot backup for the first. And that's the role I'm planning for this Dell.

So I configured the Raid to look like two drives, one 146 gb (the two 73s) and one 584 gb (the four 146s). This 2950 has a built-in DVD, so installing Linux was straightforward.

Again, I'm planning to put in a PCIe card and that will mean I can attach six Sata drives (four from the card, and two off the motherboard). And those will likewise go into a separate drive box.

Another nice feature of these servers is that the 2950 has two gigabit ethernet ports, and the R805 has four. So I'll put up a gigabit switch, so that these two servers can talk to each other on a very fast link; ideal for doing the backups, and it won't saturate the rest of the network.

Computers are such fun.

Thursday 9 June 2016

A Kentish cruise

Back to Kent again today, Milton Regis.

First I did a circuit on foot of about four miles, although I took a couple of wrong turns so it was more like five. I got back to the car at two o'clock, had lunch, relocated and then got the bike out for a cruise around town.

At about 5 pm, the battery on my PDA ran out, and that shouldn't happen, because I recharged it while I was lunching. I suspect that it wasn't actually recharging. Anyway, that left me with a problem. I usually carry a spare PDA, but I stupidly left it in the car. I do carry a spare battery for the PDA, but changing it is a bit of a performance, so I decided to use my iPhone instead. The problem with that, was that it rapidly got down to 40%, then 20%, so I made a beeline for the car, and got back just as it got down to 2%.

39 caches done, two DNFs.

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Problem paying tax

Each month, I have to pay the PAYE tax. I use a program I got from HMRC called Basic PAYE Tools, which is rather nice, and I send the numbers to the taxman. Then I pay the tax, which I also do online; again, it's easy, although paying tax is never a delight.

So I just tried to pay my tax online, using my debit card. I filled in the numbers, got moved to the "Verified by Visa" screen, gave the three letters requested, and was told that it was declined.


Well, maybe I made a mistake. So I did it all again, and got the same result. HMRC told me that Barclays was declining my card.

So I called Barclays. I got through to a lady named L, and she looked into it. She said that I'd given the "Verified by Visa" correctly, but that the billing had not been passed from HMRC to Barclays. She suggested that it was a problem with the HMRC site, and I should call them, or else wait 15 minutes and try again.

So I got on with something else - meanwhile, I was called by someone with a heavy accent, trying to put me through a survey; he claimed to be John from "Todays living UK times". So I went straight into Lenny mode, and gave the answers that Lenny would give. That took up several minutes, and so I tried the HMRC site again. Declined again.

So I called Barclays again, and this time I got through to someone named M. M told me that the problem was that I was giving the wrong expiry date.

And she was right! I'd mistaken a 0 for a 1. Great! But. Why couldn't L have told me that?

I went back to the HMRC site and paid my tax, hurrah. But then I asked M to find out why L had given me such mistaken information.

It took a few tries. For quite a long time, M was convinced that now that we'd cleared up the wrong expiry date problem (which was entirely my fault) everything was fine. But what I wanted, was to find out why I'd been given mistaken information by L. If M could see that the problem was "wrong expiry date", then L should have been able to do the same.

This has turned into a formal complaint. My guess is that L needs more training. But there's an unexpected bonus - they're crediting my account with £10. I didn't ask for that, but I'm not going to refuse!

A mysterious packet loss

One of my very important, customer-facing servers was acting odd, and I found that when I pinged it, it was giving 40% packet loss. That's the sort of symptom you get on a very congested network; I've experienced that when I was doing some major copying across the network.

So I ran iptraf-ng, a handy utility that shows you what your traffic is; where from and where to. That showed some traffic, but not a lot. If you haven't got iptraf-ng, you can get it using yum.

Actually, I was doing a major copy at the time, but the two servers (from and to) were on a separate segment of the network. That's a good trick, by the way, if you know that two of your servers are going to be passing major traffic, put them both onto a separate ethernet switch. Then that switch might get saturated, but the rest of your network isn't affected.

So, back to the 40% packet loss. I rebooted the server, and that didn't make any difference. So I went down to where the server was, and changed the ethernet cable and port on the switch, and gave the server a cold boot.

One of those three things has cured the problem. And I still don't know what the problem was.

Tuesday 7 June 2016


There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

You've probably learned this already. When someone offers you something for free, you'll find that you're paying somehow. It's a fundamental principle of life, and if you haven't learned it yet, then you just haven't lived long enough.

That's not to say you should avoid taking advantage of the free lunch. It's just that when you're offered something for free, you should look into what it is you'll be giving in exchange.

For example, Google. It's a free search engine, paid for by advertising. I understand and accept this, because the benefits I get are far greater than the annoyingness of the ads (Google, wisely, allows only text-only ads).

Other trade-offs might not be so good - for example, I'd like to read the free version of Forbes magazine, but they want me to turn off my ad blocker, which is what prevents me from being hit by malvertising (and Forbes has previous on this).


I'm hearing from Brexiters that we get a free lunch if we leave the EU. We get to keep the hundreds of millions of pounds that we currently kick into the budget, we get to control our borders, we can ignore the Brussels directives and we get our sovereignty back.

That is such a free lunch, that I immediately want to know, OK, what am I giving in exchange?

If you look at Switzerland and Norway (and Iceland and Liechtenstein), you find out. If we want to continue to trade with the EU on the basis of "no tariffs, no quotas" then we'll have to continue to contribute to the EU budget, we'll have to agree to free movement of labour, to conform to the Brussels directives and so the sovereignty that we get back, we'll gave to immediately give up again.

Or we can decide that we don't really care about exporting to the area that currently takes half our exports. Which isn't on because we're a trading nation. Without a free trade association, there would, for example, be tariffs of 10% on cars exported from UK to EU. Now imagine you're Ford, or Toyota. Where will you want to build a factory, the place that gives you free access to the 500 million consumers in the EU, or the place that gives you 60 million consumers in the UK, and adds 10% to the cost of exports to the 500 million of the EU? That's why we'll want to join the European Free Trade Association

So it looks to me as if the only gain we get, will be that we'll be freed from the need to send 73 MEPs to the European Parliament to represent our country, we'll be freed from having to argue about changes in EU regulations that affect our country, and we'll be free from the veto that we currently have on additional countries joining the EU. We'll be standing outside the room within which 27 countries decide stuff that affects our future.

The free lunch turns out to be expensive.

Monday 6 June 2016

Could we Brexit and have a relationship with the EU like Switzerland or Norway?

Yes, quite possibly. But would we like it?

Here's what Samuel Knopf, a Swiss guy says.

They have free movement of people with the EU. So they *don't* get to control their borders any more than we do. Relative to it's population size, Switzerland takes in more immigrants than the UK.

Their products have to conform to EU regulations, just like ours do.

They have to pay money to the EU, just like we do. Norway contributes 80% of that the UK contributes, per head. Norway is in the same situation as Switzerland.

And they have no say at all in what the EU rules are, or in who can join the EU. Just like we would if we left.

And that's what they signed up to. So why did they sign up to these conditions? Because negotiations went on and on, and Switzerland had a 10 year recession, because international trade is as important to them as it is to us. And they got so fed up with the recession, they agreed to all the conditions that the EU demanded.

In 1992, they decided to sign up to the EU rules. And their recession ended.

So do we want to do a Switzerland?

It looks to me like we'd be giving up a lot, and not getting much in return.

Sunday 5 June 2016

Carrots and sticks

I hear a lot of criticism of the leave campaign and of the remain campaign. "Project fear" is bandied about by both sides, and also "crude bribery". But what else could there be?

Any decision between two possibilities, has to rest on guesses about the benefits and disbenefits of each. Both possibilities have their carrots and their sticks, and what else would you expect the campaigners to talk about.

And what else would you expect from the media, other than gripping the most sensational statements and headlining them? You should always remember that the primary purpose of the media is to attract as many eyeballs as possible, so that you A) pay for the content and/or B) see the advertisements for soap and broadband. But if you don't get your information from the media, where else could you go?

This blog, of course!

Return to Kent

The Teynham Trio was calling me back. I did part one of this last week; today I did parts two and three.

On the bike, and first I did part two. Then back to the car for lunch, then out again for part three. I got back to the car after an eight hour day, 57 caches found, a few DNFs and my back hurts, my legs hurt and my fingers tingle from the nettle stings.

Near the end, I went along a bridleway to reach a puzzle I'd solved. But the bridleway ran through a field of rape, and at this time of year, the plants are thick and dense, and after a few yards I gave up. So I went to the other end of the bridleway, and found the same problem.

So then I went at it sideways, across a field of grass, and that got me to the bridleway just 80 yards from the cache, and the bridleway wasn't overgrown with rape.

Friday 3 June 2016

How to identify a bad drive

There's lots of ways, but I'm going to explain how I do it.

I use a lot of drives - it's inevitable that they fail. What would be best, is if I could predict a drive failure before it happens. And actually, that is possible,

Modern drives have a thing called "SMART". In linux, you interrogate the drive by

/usr/sbin/smartctl -a /dev/sda

There's programs that you can get for Windows that display the information.

That comes back with tons of information - the one I use is "Reallocated_Sector_Ct". When a drive finds a sector going bad, it marks it as bad and allocates a replacement from one of its spares. This figure tells you how many times that has happened.

Zero is the ideal here, of course, and for a 1 terabyte Seagate drive, 2047 is the maximum (I don't know if that's documented anywhere, it's just my experience). I look at these numbers now and then, and if it's getting up into the high hundreds, then it's time to replace that drive.

Another way you can get a warning, is via the system logs. I have a program running on each computer that parses the system logs once per day, looking for drive warnings, and if it sees any, it emails me. One problem here, is that it doesn't tell you the drive letter (sda, sdb etc). It uses an ata number. Here's how you translate ata numbers to drive letters:

for d in /sys/block/sd*
  s=`basename $d`
  h=`ls -l $d | egrep -o "host[0-9]+"`
  t=`ls -l $d | egrep -o "target[0-9:]*"`
  a2=`echo $t | egrep -o "[0-9]:[0-9]$" | sed 's/://'`
  a=`cat /sys/class/scsi_host/$h/unique_id`
  echo "$s -> ata$a.$a2"

So now that I know which drive is failing (or has failed), it's time to open up the computer. But - the way the drives sit in the box, all I can see is the side. Which one is the one I'm looking for?

So when I install drives, I write the serial number of the drive on to a label that I stick to the side of the drive.

This means that I can take the box down off its shelf, open it up, and I immediately know which drive needs to be replaced.

You're probably wondering what I do with all those drives that are close to the end of their useful life ... I put them in geocaches, so that people can either dismantle them to get the powerful magnets inside, or else use them for storage.

Thursday 2 June 2016

You cannot prove a negative

Or so I've heard. But it isn't true. Put it with the myth that all codes can be broken if you use enough computer power. Not true.

But can you prove a negative? Some you can't prove. For example, you can't prove that unicorns don't exist. Maybe somewhere, in a galaxy far far away, there's a frolicking herd of unicorns - we don't know. Maybe even in an unexplored part of a dense jungle in Earth.

But some you can prove, and I'm going to give an example.

To prove: there is no largest prime. A prime is an integer that is divisible by one and by itself, and not any other integer, with no remainder. For example: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13 ...


Suppose there is a largest prime, P. Then let's line up all the primes less than P, and let's multiply them all together, and add 1. That gives us a number larger than P. And if you try to divide it by any of the lower primes, you get a remainder of 1, so this new larger number is a prime, which is larger than the number we thought was the largest prime.

So, there cannot be a largest prime.

Quod erat demonstrandum

So, there's an example of a negative that can be proved. So not all negatives are unprovable, only some of them.

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Online banking

I am, of course not a fan of online banking. This is because banks dont seem to know how to do security. But I'm about to dip a toe into the water.

I was talking to Barclays recently, and at the end of the conversation, I asked them to send me an email. They said, they don't send emails.

I was surprised, but not shocked.  I get so many emails claiming to be from one bank or another; I routinely delete them unread - why should I care what The National Bank of Flatbush wants to say to me?

Instead, he told me, they use the Barclays online banking system to communicate. That sounds good, so I asked to hear more, and it's good news.

They use a little device called a "PINsentry". You put your card into the device, give it your PIN number, and it gives you a passcode, that's good for only a very short time. So if there's a trojan on your computer that's capturing keystrokes, it will capture that passcode, but the thief won't be able to use it when he tries to log on later.

"Great," I said, "send me one". So they did, and it arrived today. You put your debit card into the slot, and type in your PIN code.

My first stumbling block was that I didn't know the PIN code for my debit card, because I would never use it in an ATM, so I didn't memorise it. So I phoned up Barclays.

An automated system took my card number, and asked me a couple of security questions (date of birth, for example, which is why if you look up my date of birth on Facebook, you get January 1, 1905, which is, I have to confess, is a complete lie).

Then I got passed on to a nice lady with an accent I found hard to understand, especially as she couldn't pronounce "V". She asked me exactly the same security questions, then we got down to details. I explained the problem, and she decided to transfer me to the online banking team, but I told her that it wasn't an online banking issue, it was a "lost PIN" issue. Eventually she agreed, and I got to talk to Paulo.

Paulo's first question was to ask if he could use my first name. Then we got down to details, and I got the same security questions a third time. DO NOT GIVE YOUR TRUE BIRTH DATE ON FACEBOOK.

Then I explained the problem, so he told me he'd send a new PIN to me, I'd have to do a dance with an ATM to change it, and it was at that point that we discovered that they had our old address. We moved several years ago, they've been sending everything to the new address, but they still had the old address as my home. So we had to change that.

More security questions, and these were more difficult. I couldn't remember the month when we moved house, it was several years ago, I don't even remember the year. But I passed.

So he's going to send me a new PIN, and apparently I won't have to dance with an ATM to use it.

So by this time next week, I'll be able to log in to online banking.


The Eruv

The jewish sabbath is massively inconvenient. You can't use a wheelchair, or a baby buggy, for example. If you need a walking frame to get about, tough. You can't carry your house keys, or prayer books. What a pain!

So in the face of this huge inconvenience, human ingenuity is deployed in order to foil the intention of god. Here's how it's done.

Inside your home, you can use wheelchairs, baby buggies, carry books, and so on. It's only outside that this is forbidden. As an extension of this, you can also do this in private gardens, and even in community areas, like a garden used by several families.

And that's the key.

An Eruv is an area that is enclosed. It doesn't have to be enclosed by much; you can use telephone poles with a fishing line strung high up between them; if there's places the eruv needs to go that doesn't have poles, you can plant your own. As long as it's enclosed, even by a gossamer thread, it's an eruv. Because it's a private space. It's a very clever way to fool god.

And a bit dodgy, because if the Eruv is broken, either by a bird flying into the gossamer thread, or by sabotage, then you no longer have an Eruv. Plus, if it's the Sabbath, you can't do the work that would be needed to repair it.

Wait, what? In what way is it a private space? Because anyone can walk into or out of it! It is *not* private.

It's fortunate that god is so easy to fool - the eruv isn't the only example of systems designed to fool god. Can someone explain to me why fervent christians, really keen on the Ten Commandments, are able to ignore the fourth commandment "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy" ? Instead of the seventh day, Saturday, they assign Sunday as being "The Lord's Day". But the commandment is quite clear. And ignored. And while we're on the subject, how come Christians eat bacon? I know why I do, I like the taste and texture. But if you want to do what god says, how can you justify eating bacon? I've seen an opinion that Jesus said it was OK, but he also said "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." Meaning that the whole of the law applies until the end of the world, with nothing left out.

As an atheist, I'm immune to all this; I can walk around any day I like. I can eat bacon. And I don't need to fool god, because he isn't there.

But I have a lot of trouble understanding how people who do believe in god, think they can fool him.


The good people of North London want to make an Eruv; Camden, parts of Finchley Road, Primrose Hill and Hampstead. They want to do this for religious reasons, so they can fool god into thinking that it's a private area.

I'm strongly opposed to this. I have two reasons.

1) They don't need an Eruv. I have had a divine revalation about this - all you need to do is draw a line on a map, and that creates an area that can function as an Eruv - we call this a Sollyruv. Plus, a Sollyruv is cheaper, and needs less maintenance.

2) People whose religion prohibits them from entering an Eruv, will be obstructed. This is not a physical obstruction, of course, but a spiritual obstruction. But we must respect religion, right?